“To know the present we must look into the past and to know the future we must look into the past and the present.”
The quotation “all men are created equal” is part of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which Thomas Jefferson penned in 1776 during the beginning of the American Revolution. It has been called an “immortal declaration”, and “perhaps [the] single phrase” of the American Revolutionary period with the greatest “continuing importance.” The second paragraph of the United States Declaration of Independence starts as follows: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness…..
The contradiction between the claim that “all men are created equal” and the existence of American slavery, including Thomas Jefferson himself owning slaves, attracted comment when the Declaration of Independence was first published. Before final approval, Congress, having made a few alterations to some of the wording, also deleted nearly a fourth of the draft, including a passage criticizing the slave trade. At that time many other members of Congress also owned slaves, which clearly factored into their decision to delete the controversial “anti-slavery” passage. In 1776, abolitionist Thomas Day wrote: “If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.”
It is interesting to know that between 1789 through 1877, 18 presidents of the United States had slaves, even while in the White House. They include such famous names as George Washington 317 slaves, Thomas Jefferson with 600 slaves, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, and Andrew Johnson to Ulysses Grant.
Since the late 20th century the notion of biological race has been recognized as a cultural invention entirely without scientific basis. But yes Sir! There is racism in America, Britain and Europe: It could be incipient or outright transparent: But it is always there.
The current protest all over the world has once again brought to fore the often under the carpet issue of race and racism. We had thought that with the march of civilization and civil rights things have changed, but unfortunately, the tiger of the white race cannot change its stripes. The black person has always been at the receiving end of this shameful and odious act. It has taken a long time to get to this point. It started with the ugly encounter of the white trace with our ancestors. Ditto their encounter with other races; Indians, Chinese and the Mediterranean races. At any point where stereotypes are evolved to describe other peoples, racism must be there. Hence, we have in the Encyclopedia Britannica of 1798 a most profane, blasphemous and sacrilegious characterization of the black man: “NEGRO, Homo Pelli nigra, a name given to a variety of the human species, who are entirely black and are found in the Torrid zone, especially in that part of Africa which lies within the tropics. In the complexion of Negroes, we meet with various shades; but they otherwise differ far from other men in all the features of their face. Round cheeks, high cheek-bones, a forehead somewhat elevated, a short, broad, flat nose, thick lips, small ears, ugliness, and irregularity of shape, characterize their external appearance. The Negro women have the loins greatly depressed, and very large buttocks, which give the back the shape of a saddle. Vices the most notorious seem to be the portion of this unhappy race: idleness, treachery, revenge, cruelty, impudence, stealing, lying, profanity, debauchery, nastiness and intemperance, are said to have extinguished the principles of natural law and to have reproofs of conscience. They are strangers to every sentiment of compassion, and are an awful example of the corruption of man when left to himself.” Encyclopedia Britannica (1798). No doubt, if any man can harbour the above opinion about another race, he would not bat an eyelid before enslaving them or placing his knee on their neck. And this is exactly what the white man did. To justify this act of perfidy, he enlisted the aid of God’s book, the Holy Bible, which he modified and called the ‘Slave Bible’.
The Slave Bible was a powerful tool of propaganda, a mind-control device, once used by British missionaries to convert slaves to Christianity. Published in 1807, The Slave Bible is a special historical artefact because it has been so gravely edited that any stories which might have inspired the slaves to rebel, were completely omitted. It had all “references to freedom and escape from slavery” excised, while passages encouraging obedience and submission were emphasized. The editors removed 90 per cent of the Old Testament and half of the New Testament. Among the excluded passages are Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus”, which was thought to possibly incite rebellion. Passages like Ephesians 6:5, “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ,” were kept.
The whole concept of racism is a complete mindset that connotes the superiority of one race over the other based on skin colour. Apartheid, that inhuman philosophy was propped up by the notions of race in the Bible according to the Dutch Reformed Church, that classified races into their descent from the children of Noah; Ham, Shem and Japheth. See Genesis 10: The Descendants of Noah’s Sons.
People from Africa, the Caribbean and Asia were encouraged by the government to come to England. But on arrival there they faced racism and discrimination, which was not illegal in Britain until 1965. But racism persists in England.
Although migrant workers have been vital for the growth of Britain’s economy and public services, racism has always been widespread. There was the ‘colour bar’ that prevented ‘coloured’ people obtaining jobs and accommodation, fighting for British boxing titles or even joining the armed services or serving as officers in them. Some laws were openly racist too, such as the 1925 Colored Alien Seamen’s Order or the 1981 British Nationality Act.
There have been openly racist speeches by leading politicians too: Seeking to create divisions and stir up racism. Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ tirade in 1968 is a well-known example. And then there are the activities of politically racist organizations such as the National Front.
No matter what the case may be, racism is always a disgusting and disturbing act, but it’s something that has occurred nonstop throughout history and doesn’t show any sign of stopping anytime soon.
Anti-Semitism is another form of racism, but which the Jews have fought with tact and show of high sense of collective resolve. Today, even though they are hated, they are a force to be reckoned with in the field of science and technology. Many of the great minds were Jews, including Einstein. This is despite the fact that as a people they have always been despised as we read in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, the story of Shylock the Jew who lamented thus: ‘many a time and oft In the Rialto you have rated me about my money and my usances: Still have I borne it with a patient shrug, For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe. You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, And spit upon my Jewish gabardine, and all for use of that which is mine own. . . .
Despite all the protests in the past and the various token legislation’ enacted to give human rights to the Blacks, deeply ingrained and systemic racism still exists. This cannot be denied. The Blacks who feel its hurt know and we can never take that from them. However, the restoration of the respect for and the dignity of the Black race in the old slave enclaves can only be achieved by the action and emancipation of the blacks in the home continent and as late Mandela said, the future of the Black race lies chiefly with Nigeria; the most populous Black nation on earth. If Nigeria can come out of its dismal and depressing state, then there will be hope for the Black race. Unfortunately and regrettably, Nigeria has failed the Black race. Once looked upon as a beacon of hope and liberation, we have regressed to the point of being seen as the shame of the race. Politically, socially and economically, we have abdicated our role and turned the hopes and aspirations of the race into a hopeless hope and a revolution of rising expectation at independence turned into rising frustration. Our nation has become synonymous with corruption, mismanagement, poverty, impoverishment, misery and penury. Unfortunately for the Black race, God has destined Nigeria to lead the black race out of the bondage of ages and we have been shirking that responsibility. Until then, ‘Black life will not matter’; not here, not in the Diaspora. Next week we look at our pitfalls and its bearing on Black lives.